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I am convinced that true freedom is not the absence of limitations but finding the right limitations, limitations that are life-giving and liberating. My marriage vows limit me, but they also set me free. My children limit me profoundly, but my children have also opened up enormous new space for me to experience love, joy and grace. God’s Word limits me, but its limitations ultimately give me life (Psalm 119:25).

The key question for me during this season has been: what are the right limitations for freedom? What limitations do I need to become who God calls me to be?

As mentioned above, some of these are clear. I am constrained by God’s word, my marriage vows and my children. Other things are less clear. I am blessed to be in a position of having many options, many opportunities, many open roads. Agency – the power of choice – is a formidable thing.

In light of all this, I’ve been trying to get clarity on my primary callings. There is so much to do (need), and so much that I like to do (affinity), but I want to be driven by calling (what does God want me to do?) as much as possible. As I’ve reflected on this, six primary calls have emerged, along with diagnostic questions that I use to guide me in these callings. I thought I would share them, in hopes that they may help someone else.

My Six Callings:

1. Walk with God. Diagnostic Questions: Who am I becoming? Am I growing in love for God and people? Am I growing in spiritual, emotional, relational and physical health? Do I have rhythms to protect and nourish my companionship with God?

2. Cultivate my marriage. Diagnostic questions: Is my wife coming more and more alive? What is our sense of shared mission? Do we have rhythms to protect and nourish our love?

3. Disciple my children. Diagnostic questions: How do my children experience me? Is grace the foundation of our family life? Do we have rhythms during which organic discipleship takes place?

4. Preach to the Church. Diagnostic questions: What is my vision of God; is it getting bigger as I get older? Do I understand how to engage the imaginative universe of those to whom I preach? Do I have rhythms and opportunities to cultivate my gifts?

5. Pastor God’s people. Diagnostic questions: Am I sharing myself? Am I maintaining or leading those who have been entrusted to my care? Do I have rhythms that make space for authentically shared life with others?

6. Be faithful as a scholar. Diagnostic questions: What is the the point (telos) of all this education? Am I moving from personal ambition towards faithful service? Do I have rhythms that enable, restrict and focus my academic vocation in service of others?

A few further thoughts:

  • After identifying my callings, the next step has been identifying, building or refining my daily, weekly, monthly rhythms to give concrete expression to each of these callings. My goal is not to script every hour of every day, but to make sure that there is space for the most important things to happen. Things like morning prayer and daily family time. Within the framework of these rhythms, life can get pretty messy.
  • As I’ve attempted to live out of these callings, it has meant learning to say no. To say no when something is outside of my primary callings, to say no when the only reason is that it needs to be done and I can do it, and to say no when one of these callings begins to impoverish the others (this mainly happens with 3-6).
  • Navigating these callings requires a continual process of discernment with my wife, trusted friends and mentors. I am aware of my capacity for self-deception, and so I need to give others permission to place limitations on me as well.

I am sure that much more could be said. I am certainly not saying that everyone needs to follow my process or adopt my callings as their own. But I do hope that for some it provides a model of one way that limitations can be liberating and life-giving.

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